The Israelites were never a large or powerful empire. Their economy was simple. We would hardly know they ever existed if not for the Bible. It is probably not a coincidence that they are geographically at the crossroads of the ancient civilizations of Egypt , Mesopotamia (Babylon, Assyria, Persia to the east), and the Mediterranean (Greece, Rome). Their ideas drew from many directions and spread in many directions, always by persuasion rather than force. The figure labeled Roman Empire shows the land of Israel in comparison with its ancient neighbors.
Just for perspective on how small the territory is, the maps of modern Israel and Texas in the figure labeled Israel and South Texas are on the same scale.
The figure labeled Israel at the time of Jesus shows the internal geography of Israel. Jerusalem is the most important city from the perspective of the authors of most of the Bible. Also look for the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan river, Nazareth, Bethlehem, and the Dead Sea.
The following dates begin with the earliest external record of the Israelites. Some of them are estimated or rounded. The ancient nation of Israel existed from 1250 to 587 BCE , but we are also considering the Judean and Jewish authors who produced the Hebrew Bible, the last book of which was written in 164 BCE.
Many ancient civilizations produced more art, literature, military strength, technological innovation, and intellectual innovation than Israel. Most of them were defeated or simply faded away with time, and ceased to exist. Israel survived as a people and a set of ideas because they managed to maintain their identity without a homeland where they were a majority, or a central governing body. The term Diaspora describes a people that has been dispersed from its original homeland, but maintains communal identity as small minorities spread over many places. In modern times, there are a number of examples of communities that are “from” a place that few or none of the members have ever been. The Jews seem to have been the first.